Diversifying the History curriculum at school?Busting Myths

By Fariha Munim

During my third year of university, I took the carefully debated decision to enter into a career I had originally put off. This was because I grew a strongly held belief that teaching History at secondary school involved molding my students to believe stories only about British greatness.

When I began university and took one of my first modules on the British Empire, my eyes were opened to the ‘darker’, and what seemed like, unexplored archives of the past. This was the legacy of Britain’s empire, where the existence of our present today was literally built on the bones of a brutal past, which stemmed from Britain’s control of 1/4 of the world. I was outraged that none of these stories were explored, or even mentioned to me at school. Why was it that I was never taught about the Amritsar Massacre? Why was it that I was never taught about Britain’s supposed Gulag’s in Kenya? Why was it that I was not taught about the reason why Hitler’s racial theory came into existence in the first place? It angered me,that the educational system that I had succeeded in was partly through weaving my way through what seemed to be a lie told to me by the educational establishment.

I blamed the lack of diversity in the history curriculum and vowed that I could never go into such a career like teaching History and tell these ‘lies’.

Fast forward three years later, and I am currently completing the TeachFirst programme, teaching History at a mixed secondary school in North London. My original motivation to enter teaching during my third year of university was for a range of reasons but curriculum-wise, I wanted to investigate the History curriculum, and the rationale behind why History at school is constructed the way it is for many as a story of the greats, with less room for the stories of the marginalised voices who form the majority of classrooms in London.

I was surprised to find that my assumptions gained from University about the history curriculum, had little resemblance to the actual reality of History teaching as a discipline in school.

One of my first assumptions about teaching History was that it was a subject heavily politicised by the current government in power. People shivered at talk about Gove’s reforms on education, myself included. I assumed that the state of political ignorance throughout the country was to blame on the governments, past and present, for failing to talk about the nuances of Britain’s recent past starting with the British Empire.

I was wrong.

Myth 1: The government controls everything to do with History education in the country.

Historical education is complex. There is a process that has to be followed, if children are to make sense of the past in their brains. There must be coherency within the History curriculum for children. If the past doesn’t make sense for students chronologically, the entire discipline of History fails. By the time a student reaches university to study History, they have made sense of History a lot throughout their entire school career. A student is ready for progression in History- which means they are ready to advance onto the next, higher level stage which is degree level thinking. Here, it is time for students to critically think about History and its many nuances.

History in school is about deconstructing that level of knowledge, which has been gained at degree level so that an 11 year old can make that same path of progression in history education that, an 18 year old leaves school with. To do that, historical educators must be able to slowly introduce students to concepts. Some historical concepts are more suited for a child’s cognitive abilities at one stage than another.

Some historical topics are built with so much nuance that it is cognitively too much for a child to process this information, without getting the basics of a historical skill correct. For example, introducing topics such as genocide and war, or famine and war, to children in Y7 or Y8 will overload students existing understandings of history at that stage. These students do not know what it means to understand what a ‘change’ is in history properly, so it makes no sense to even branch out into anything more complex without a set route to get them there.

Other topics present a better opportunity to chronologically make sense of the past first, in order to understand the present. A commonly taught topic to Y7’s across the country is on the Norman conquest of England. After the Norman conquest, these students then chronologically progress to the next stage of historical thinking built off the knowledge they have gained with the Norman conquest. A common example could be the topic of life in the Middle Ages, followed by looking at the Tudors and so on. In each of these topics, there is an underlying historical skill that teachers are required to get students to master in order for their understanding of what ‘history’ is to increase. These skills are specific skills that are designed to help students eventually reach the level of criticality and nuance a student will begin university level history with at the end of their education.

This is not understood enough in POC (people of colour) activism circles when there are talks about diversifying the curriculum. The curriculum needs to be diversified, but at the correct time and place within school. Students can not cognitively understand without having the basics of a skill set in stone first. Without historical skills being mastered, students will not be equipped with the tools to understand the nuances diversifying a curriculum brings.

Myth 2: Children aren’t taught properly about the British Empire because it’s still as story of white men saving the day.

A common sore point for many when it comes to diversifying the curriculum are related to questions children are asked on topics such as the British Empire. From university level eyes, we look at the question of ‘Was the British Empire good or bad?’ as sometimes illegitimate. This is because for us, the question seems invalid to even ask because of our knowledge. However, if we are to just teach students beliefs that hinge on the negative of Empire (which do outweigh the positives for many), then we do a disservice to our students as teachers. This is because we have already mastered the skill of weighing up evidence as history students, and that was learnt at school. Our students though, have not. This is why such questions open up their minds to being able to debate evidence (and the other skills needed for progression). Instead of being condemned as illegitimate questions, such questions are opportunities to progress in historical thinking so our students arrive at the same level of criticality we entered university with. If that is taken away from them, then the skill of being critical in history is being taken away too.

Myth 3: History at school is always a story of white men saving the world to make things better.

The other idea of ‘progression’ in historical education has been attacked a lot, and rightly so. Why is it that at school, children are taught that things inevitably get better when the reality as we learn at university is much more jaded and complex? The answer to this is similarly, displaying a sense of ‘progression’ in history, rests on working with the existing knowledge and skills students have when they enter secondary school. Learning takes place in chunks for it to be successful. Focusing on the ‘bigger pictures’ thematically such as the Romans, Saxons, Tudors, Empire, War, Cold War and Civil Rights presents coherency for our students cognitive abilities at this stage. If there is no visible progression- we have no opportunity to challenge it at a later stage. This is all dependent on building historical skill up first.

Myth 4: Why was my curriculum at school so white?

Lastly, one thing I absolutely stood by was of the notion of how curriculums always seemed to be a story of white, middle class men saving the rest of the world. I assumed that schools were forced to teach this. I was wrong.

The history curriculum in the UK is one of the most flexible in the world when it comes to teaching. Apart from a few mandatory periods which must be taught (such as the Holocaust, a period of British history and Empire), teachers have autonomy over their departments as long as students master the historical skills they deserve to do well in their GCSES, A levels and progress onto history at university.

The question then that we should perhaps ask ourselves is not ‘why is my curriculum white?’, and blame the establishment but the question of ‘why are there not more teachers who want to make the curriculum diverse?’.

Alternative structures are present to the ones many schools use for their historical curriculums. It is more than possible to paint a sense of coherency for students with looking at the topic of migration, slavery, civil rights, interpretations of the empire, WW1 and WW2, the Cold War and then choosing GCSE options that build on this with topics on migration, empires and Civil Rights. It is not up to the establishment to decide if that is taught- its is up to departments in schools.

The need for diversity in school history can come from those who chose to enter the field, where the opportunities to teach what you wanted to be taught at school are present, but are not taken advantage of because of the lack of representation from POC in schools. A recent report by Royal Historical Society said only 11% of History students at university come from BME backgrounds. This makes the face of historical education in schools also look bleak if we are to talk about truly diversifying our historical curriculum.

I want to ask the question of if we are to truly diversify History, then should we start with diversifying those in a profession which has been stereotyped as the playing field of someone much more male, white and middle class?

Why young British Bangladeshis should also care about Bangladesh’s 2018 General Election

By Fariha Munim.

Growing up, Bangladeshi politics was a constant discussion point in our household as they were in many Bangladeshi homes throughout Britain. Two women, each adorned with simple or elegant saris, looking like they would drop dead any moment had fascinated the minds of uncles, aunts, fathers, and mothers over tea and biscuits in the evening for over 20 years.

What a wonderful blend of British and Bangladeshi.

(Yet, don’t let their dress detract you from the impressive fact that politics in a largely patriarchal society was dominated by not one, but two females from opposing sides in their bid to lead one of the world’s largest ‘democracies’ by population.)

As a History graduate today, I can’t say that I was never interested in those political debates waged at home, because I always was. However, I grew severely pessimistic about what was going on in Bangladesh as I got older. Politically, the country seemed like a lost cause and I was simply content to go on and spend holidays in luxury there over the summer like I had done since I was a child. Politics was and still seems like a lost cause in Bangladesh. The causes to exactly why, are still up for debate. Did I grow apathetic? Yes. Was I happy about my apathy? No.

From an outsider lens, Bangladeshi politics is close, and also so distant from me. This is a take into why, someone who can not even vote in Bangladesh still takes an interest into Bangladeshi politics in 2018 and a message to why younger British Bangladeshis should also be aware of the situation.

Today, millions have tried to vote in Bangladesh’s 2018 General Election. Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world with over 170 million people inside its borders. This is the first time in its history that the same party could be “re-elected” into power. However, as part of election practice almost in Bangladesh, fair elections are not being waged.

Today, on the 30th December 2018, ballots have been stuffed with fake votes in the port of Chittagong minutes before the election opened to the general public.

People have been coerced to vote in ways that do not meet the standards of democratic voting behavior. The link attached here in translated English talks about how a young woman was followed inside a voting booth, is coerced to vote for the ruling Awami League which is defined by a symbol known as a ‘nouka’ (boat). The follower eventually moves aside but can see what party the woman voted for, and publicly then proceeds to tell her in front of other public voters that she did not do the right thing by voting for another party. This is a micro-aggression that has happened in bouts up and down the country. Yet, the effects of such undermining only serve to create a sense of oppression.

Communications inside the country surrounding election related covering have been banned until after the vote in the hopes to stop the spread of ‘fake news’.

Many views from British Bangladeshis are that Bangladesh works on a system of corruption that is suited to Bangladesh. Yet, for the educated middle and upper classes, this is becoming increasingly challenged as a way of governance. In Bangladesh, these are the groups that have traditionally led the way for active change in the past and have been shunned for it. Shunning these groups was used as a colonial tactic by Pakistani military authorities during the 1971 War of independence where student groups, doctors, professors, teachers and journalists were murdered on the grounds of Dhaka University.

People are not settling for anything less than democracy as a result of being educated more and more on the values of democracy preached in Bangladesh’s constitution and held up in the curriculum as a reference point of good governance.

The least I can do, from my privileged position as someone who can sit in the comfort of her own home without fear of prosecution or arrest, is to speak freely about the situation of a country so many people my age want to see change for.

1/3 of Bangladesh’s population is of between 18–35, with 18 being the voting age. Bangladesh has achieved a youth literacy rate for the ages of 15–25 of just over 87% which means that the language of democracy is well within bounds to be understood. This is a major reason as to why we are seeing such outrage as democratic expectations are not being held yet believed by so many as an achievable end Bangladesh can achieve.

People are being arrested for what they post online. Freedom of speech has been tampered with on severe scales. People are being coerced mentally to vote in specific ways. The violence on streets has not been explored here, because this is a common occurrence in Bangladesh but should really take us all with shock like if it happened in Britain. Younger Bangladeshis want change, and as an ally, the least we can do is support them achieve their goals.

Had I been born and raised in Bangladesh, I would not be writing this with such boldness that I am now. This right to speak freely should never be seen as a privilege but as a right. People are being denied this, despite believing in its inherent worth — they are wanting the world to see, so the least I can do?

Give Bangladesh the attention that I have the voice to give. So can you.

Racism in Britain? That’s not breaking news

By Rahma Hussein

A week ago, an article published by the Guardian showcased a new study into the widespread extent of racism in Britain today. The findings of the study are hardly surprising, and certainly does not reveal anything that we did not know already. People of colour have always been raising issues about racism and its huge prevalence, but what is the most common response that we receive? “Racism doesn’t exist anymore!”, “You can’t always speak about race”, “I love all kinds of people, both black and white”, “I am colour-blind, I don’t see colour!”

These responses are incredibly problematic to say the least – mostly for the reason that it completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of racism. Racism is now apparently a thing of ‘the past’, and there is no way that people are discriminated against due to the colour of their skin in the twenty-first century. Lived experiences of non-white people are completely erased to make perpetrators feel comfortable and to  avoid responsibility to a problem they are the prime contributors of.

According to the report,

43% of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years – more than twice the proportion of white people (18%) who reported the same experience.

You can read the article here.

38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared with 14% of white people, with black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected.

Publishing statistics on a well known problem does not in any way make this an “exclusive” discovery. We all know that racism exists in British society in all corners of life – from work, education, communities and even within families. This has always existed. Much more perplexing is the level of intellectual dishonesty surrounding discourses regarding racism – attempts at erasing British colonial histories, immigration policies and attitudes which are undoubtedly racist. Measures such as “stop and search” taken by those in significant positions of authority, such as the Metropolitan Police, which disproportionately targets Black men more than any other demographic, do so under the guise of ensuring “safer streets”. We all know this is racist. Another example of racism practiced under the guise of “safety” and “counter-extremist” within both society and academic spaces is the government sanctioned PREVENT strategy – disproportionately targeting Muslim students who deemed too opinionated or outspoken, therefore dangerous and threatening, even possibly hinting at possibilities of becoming ‘influenced’ by extremist tendencies. But hey – it’s totally ok to invite fascists onto campus because free speech and we should encourage healthy debate at whatever costs, even if it compromises the safety and wellbeing of minority and marginalised students (KCL, I’m looking at you here).   

I. am. so. done. with this ridiculous double-standard. Next time we speak about racism, don’t dismiss us. Don’t tell us that we are sensitive, and shouldn’t ‘see’ things in the context of race. Don’t tell us to stop playing the ‘race card’. Racism is alive and kicking – and it is about time that your pride (yes, you non-poc folks) is placed aside and create meaningful solutions to problems which has characterised British society throughout its history.


Cover photo credits: Washington Post photo illustrations/ UPI photo

BrAsians: Looking Beyond Culture Clash

By Aisha Mazhar.

The history of South Asian migration to Britain begins during the colonial period when India was a British colony; a trickle of South Asian students, sailors, governesses and housemaids settled in Britain. The most significant waves of South Asian migration were following the Second World War when Britain was faced with labour shortages; the partition of India and the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda. Today the South Asian diaspora inBritain represents over 3.9% of the population, amounting to just over 2.3million people according to the 2001 census.[1] Despite the historical lineage of the South Asian presence in Britain, the South Asian experience has often largely been overlooked or confined to the periphery of Britain’s national narrative. If the South Asian diaspora has been the subject of interest, it has been analysed through tropes such as ‘culture clash’ informed by categories of analysis which overwhelmingly focus on religion, culture and tradition. Diasporic identities according to cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, ‘are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference’. Despite the hybridity and adaptability of South Asian diasporic identities, they have been portrayed as static, steeped in values seen as distinctly ‘other’ in contrast to western,‘British values’. Through a variety of different cultural mediums, South Asians have rearticulated what it means to be British by accommodating, re-interpreting and fusing strands of various cultures, experience and identity. The director Pratibha Parmar, aptly stated in regard to the South Asian diaspora, ‘we have been changing the very heart of what constitutes Englishness by recoding it with our diasporic sensibilities’. [2]

Image credits: National Army Museum 

BrAsian; The term in some ways, captures the essence of Parmar’s articulation that the South Asian diaspora has ‘recoded’ Englishness in certain ways. BrAsian dispenses with categories which stress the nation or ethnic minority framings of identity. Both ‘British’ and ‘Asian’ are accommodated in the term but not left unaltered; they are fused to create something new altogether. The term ‘BrAsian’ was introduced in A Postcolonial People; an anthology which explores the multi-faceted experience of British South Asians.[3] The term also stresses the need to re-narrate the South Asian experience, not on the basis of national identity but with an understanding of the exchanges and nuanced experience that ‘BrAsian’ implies. Above all else, ‘BrAsian’ is a means of illustrating that identities can seldom be decomposed into neat categories; It demands looking beyond the notion of ‘culture clash’, which fails to account for the richness and multiplicity of British South Asian identities.

Credit: Peter Nicholls, Reuters 

One way of engaging with a more nuanced understanding of British South Asian identity, is to provide platforms for people to tell their own stories and experiences. Cultural mediums, such as art can be useful and effective modes of expression, which can capture the multifaceted nature of identity. A number of British South Asian artists have done just that. TheSingh Twin’s, are a British artist duo comprised of sisters, Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, their work explores themes of identity and cultural prejudices amongst others.  Upon first glance, the Indian influences in the Singh Twin’s painting EnTWINed are most apparent; It is painted in the style of a traditional Mughal miniature and features important Indian historical figures such as Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Sophia Duleep Singh. Yet upon further inspection, there are very clear British influences evident throughout the piece in the form of landmarks and cultural references. In fact, the painting itself is a reinterpretation of the Victorian painter, Nelson O’Neil’s paintingsEastward Ho (1857) and Home Again (1858). Eastward Ho depicts British soldiers boarding a ship bound forIndia to quell the ‘Indian mutiny’; Whilst, HomeAgain portrays the return of the soldiers having quelled the ‘mutiny’.  EnTWINED subverts O’Neil’s narrative of courageous British soldiers’ participating in supressing the rebellion of 1857; This time, the heroes are those who fought for Indian independence. The painting further features references to both historical and contemporary figures and motifs; the twins themselves are illustrated, wearing the Scottish tartan alongside shalwar kameez. Entwined is the artistic manifestation of BrAsian; synthesising both British and South Asian history and culture, to produce a nuanced piece which unsettles traditional narratives and celebrates the influence that SouthAsians have had on Britain.  The twins have asserted their ‘right to define our own culture and artistic individuality in a way that is meaningful and true to whom we are as British Asians’.[4] When British Asians are given the platform to tell their own stories, perhaps we will eschew reductive narratives which seek to posit a narrow and selective definition of what ‘integration’ and ‘British’ looks like. 


[1] http://www.movingpeoplechangingplaces.org/migration-histories/south-asians-making-britain.html

[2] E. Ann Kaplan, Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze (Routledge, 1997), 20

[3] N. Ali, V.S. Kalra, S. Sayyid eds., A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain, 2005

[4]  http://www.singhtwins.co.uk/INSPIRATION.html

Why Decolonise? Are white, male thinkers no longer important?

By Thahmina Begum.

What a bore, right? Just another self-righteous, brown student demanding special treatment and is on a mission to eradicate whiteness and though she complains about the corrupt, greedy West, she still chooses to live here. This is obviously (partly) incorrect. Those who interpret ‘decolonise’ as synonymous with erasing white people or, in the context of academia, removing the work produced by upper-class, white men, are clearly part of the bigger problem. This issue of ‘decolonising’ syllabuses has gained more prominence and backlash in recent years but one of my first interactions with it was this particular article. Gopal, so eloquently, put my thoughts into words when she speaks out about not only the lack of diversity in the types of thinkers that university curriculums consist of but also this assumption that Western-born knowledge is universal and the centre of all valuable wisdom.

“Decolonising the curriculum is, first of all, the acceptance that education, literary or otherwise, needs to enable self-understanding. This is particularly important to people not used to seeing themselves reflected in the mirror of conventional learning – whether women, gay people, disabled people, the working classes or ethnic minorities.

Gopal goes on to say:

“Knowledge and culture is collectively produced and these groups, which intersect in different ways, have as much right as elite white men to understand what their own role has been in forging artistic and intellectual achievements.” 

Now, some claim that incorporating more thinkers of colour, to ‘diversify’ the syllabus, will decolonise university modules. But I don’t think this is enough to develop a broader and in-depth analysis of the complex structures and intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and ability in literature and political thought. An educational experience goes beyond just the module outline and encompasses the values and knowledge learned and deconstructed and play a crucial role in validating social and political institutions. Therefore, this is about more than just adding one or two writers of colour into a lecture; more importantly, this is about moving beyond the Western canon, particularly in political thought.

In other words, if you teach a curriculum and it consists of only the work of white males, this would undoubtedly perpetuate the incorrect idea that knowledge is inherently Western. This further exacerbates the false claim that Western values and its philosophies are applicable worldwide and gives the impression that there is a general identity or history that we all share. This neglects and undervalues strands of literacy that are produced in other parts of the world and, as a result, post-colonial thinkers are overlooked or seen more as a counter-argument to mainstream literary work, rather than part of the main argument itself. This division in whose contribution is valued is unsurprising since throughout intellectual work, historians in the global South have continuously needed to refer to events and publications on European history for validation whereas European historians produce their work in obliviousness of non-Western history without having the quality of their work questioned.

The absence of thinkers of colour is too often considered a norm and left unchallenged and by continuing to teach academic literature in this way, we are maintaining this Eurocentric framework which is not only limiting but is also an inaccurate way to learn history. This Western canon, for instance, teaches political theory in a way that ignores the importance of race in determining your socio-economic position and therefore such theories exclude the experiences of BME people. In his book Racial Contract (1997), Charles Mills criticises the ‘social contract’ that is created in European societies, arguing that it is intrinsically racist since it validates and encourages white dominance over so-called subordinate populations. He insists:

[The social contract] “is always differential privileging of the whites as a group with respect to the non-whites, the exploitation of their bodies, land, and resources and the denial of equal socio-economic opportunities for them” and “all whites are beneficiaries of the Contract, not a contract in which non-whites can be a consenting party.”

Such raceless notions that are ruling political theory and works of literature will first need to be acknowledged and critiqued to expose the real character of our world and the corresponding historical deficiencies of its normative theories and practices. For instance, one example of this Eurocentric, raceless model of political thought is evident in the work of Edmund Burke. Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) puts forward his stance against the abstract liberal ideas of human rights and natural equality that the French Revolution was established upon. He believed any attempt to build a new society based on such non-concrete concepts is harmful since society itself was a complex structure that had been sewed together by ancestral traditions. This belief in preserving traditions to support the fragile nature of society and his view of politics as an empirical science, based on past wisdom and experiences, meant that Burke was critical of revolution and believed it must always be the last resource of thinking. My intention behind mentioning his view on revolution is to portray how Burke’s position is one of privilege as a beneficiary in the status quo and therefore he can afford to sustain the very traditions and structures of society that placed him at an advantageous position. Truthfully, while Burke may have supported the rights of a ‘legitimate’ rebellion, he upheld the authority of Empire and cherished the rights of British imperial sovereignty.

I compare Burke’s conservatism with Frantz Fanon’s argument for revolution and the need of violence to overthrow the exploitative nature and psychological inferiority of the colonies, to exemplify how traditional disciplines within political thought and philosophies of European Enlightenment were inherently ignorant towards understanding the societies of the colonised nations. It was common for European colonisers to sermonise this enlightenment humanism to the colonised, while simultaneously denying this in practice. For thinkers like Fanon, complacency in existing conditions was not an option. His book The Wretched of the Earth (1961) is a summation of his experiences of colonialism and provides a synopsis as to how race is a primary axis of oppression and inequality and is linked to other intersections such as class. Fanon even critiqued Marx and Engels’s trajectories of capitalism and revolution as focusing largely on class and as inconsiderate of race:

“Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it is clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies, the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”

To redefine the scope of political theory yonder the occidental, many comparative political theorists argue, and I agree, that this necessitates a reflection upon the status and meaning of political life as not restrained to a geographical setting but in a global arena.

Screenshot 2018-11-11 at 15.13.32
Image credits

Though academic curriculums traditionally consist of white male scholars, when feminist theory is discussed, it is common to explore the work of liberal, white feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, particularly A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Wollstonecraft, despite her thought-provoking and important ideas on the civil rights of women, like many Western thinkers that overshadow political theory and literature, she does not consider the importance of race, or even class, in her philosophy. Wollstonecraft simply believed that women should not be excluded from political or civic employments as this undermines morality and natural rights. However, her stance was confined to middle-class women, since she regarded them as in the “most natural” state (that is the least corrupted by either wealth or poverty). But this class of women tended to be predominantly white. Therefore, by pioneering Wollstonecraft’s work as the main text within feminist political thought, the conversation disregards the experiences of non-white and poorer women.

Black feminist, bell hooks criticises this very framework of understanding and teaching feminist theory; she disapproves of Friedan’s Feminist Mystique being heralded as having paved the way for contemporary feminism.

“Like many white women who dominate feminist discourse [and] articulate feminist theory, Friedan has little or no understanding of white supremacy as a racial politic, of the psychological impact of class, of their political status within a racist, sexist, capitalist state.”

hooks claims that Friedan’s exclusionary feminism saw victims of sexism as college-educated, white women, “who were compelled by sexist conditioning to remain in the home” and these “specific problems and dilemmas of leisure-class white housewives were real” but were not “political concerns of masses of women [who were] concerned about economic survival, ethnic and racial discrimination.”

I believe this to be very similar to issues surrounding Wollstonecraft’s feminist discourse, since her insistence on allowing women to work neglected the experiences of non-white and poorer women who worked labour-intensive jobs and did not have the privilege in choosing to remain at home. Like most traditional literature which perpetuate a false universal identity that we all share, a central tenet of conventional feminist theory is the proclamation that ‘all women are oppressed’ which implies that there is a common experience. However, in reality, and throughout history, factors such as race, class, sexuality and religion have created an assortment of experiences which define the degree to which sexism oppresses individual women. Feminist theory and more female thinkers do indeed need to be incorporated into the discourse as a part of the decolonisation process. However, the aforementioned points must be taken into consideration, in order to successfully do this. Past feminist refusal, as seen in Wollstonecraft’s philosophy, to draw attention to, or even attack, racial hierarchies have not only repressed the relation between race and class but have reinforced white supremacy. Therefore, it is imperative that, when studying thinkers like Wollstonecraft, it should not be assumed that her feminism is applicable to all women, but rather an understanding that intersections, such as race and class, are prevalent through the study of non-white feminist theorists.

Evidently, this decolonising process in academia is beyond just incorporating a diverse range of thinkers. It is about disposing the notion that Western history is shared globally and accepting that there are significant intersections (race and gender particularly in this piece) that need to be included and taught in academia. This should not be interpreted as an attempt to eliminate the work of white, male thinkers but an acknowledgement that non-Western thinkers are not mere counter-arguments of the main conversation. Rather they should be perceived as part of, and integral to, the main discussion within academic studies.

 

Header image credits: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Ostracising Communities: An Ofsted-Approved Guide

Some weeks ago the head of Ofsted, the government-run department in charge of overseeing state schools, announced that inspectors would now begin to question young girls who wore hijabs to class.

The word ‘question’ in and of itself is an outright understatement. Perhaps ‘interrogate’ or ‘grill’ would be more accurate, since the intent behind this questioning is clear. Ofsted are looking for signs that the girl has been forced into wearing a hijab and that she has had no say in the matter. They are looking for indications that the child will become radicalised or, potentially, has become so already. Apparently it is not enough to scrutinize every adult Muslim you see walking down the street—now you must question the intentions of every six year old you stumble across as well.

These changes in Ofsted ruling play into the government’s recent policies regarding the Prevent agenda, a strand of their counter-terrorism strategy. In theory, Prevent was put in place to provide support for those who are at risk of being radicalised, but in reality it has resulted in Muslim students and young people feeling even more isolated from modern British society, thus having an entirely counterproductive effect. The more the government singles out and discriminates against young Muslims, the more ostracised they will feel and the more likely they are to resort to radical means.

In the same manner, the singling out of young Muslim girls, especially at such a young age, will result in them feeling the same way—that they are not like the other children, that they are different or somehow in the wrong, and it is likely that they will not even understand why. It is ironic that politicians and various right-wing parties make arguments about Muslims not integrating into British society, when the reason Muslims feel ostracised is largely due to the doing of the government itself.

Ofsted’s argument regarding their decision is that young girls wearing the hijab promotes their “sexualisation,” since the hijab is not usually worn until the onset of puberty, but this is not always the case. For myself, and many other young Muslim girls, the hijab is an article of clothing worn to convey their cultural identity or simply so they can look like the other women they know. In the same manner that young white girls put on oversized heels and messy lipstick to imitate their mothers, Muslim girls do the same by wearing hijabs, and they should not be singled out because of this choice. There is no malicious intent nor secret agenda behind it.

This is not to say that some Muslim girls are not forced to wear the hijab. In certain families, cultures or locations, this is the unfortunate truth, but very rarely is this the case for most young Muslims in the UK. The actions of the few should not become a standard upon which the government can judge the actions of the wider community, and this applies not only to the hijab but also the broader issues that affect the Muslim community. The more the government puts into discriminating against Muslims, the more stifled Muslims will feel. It’s as if they are Britain’s dirty little secret.

I find it difficult to imagine that a young Sikh boy who wore a turban to school or a young Jewish boy who wore a kippah (skullcap) would be asked the same questions or treated in the same way—or indeed that their clothing would be a point of conversation at all. This is where the problem lies. It is always, always Muslims, and the same issues are stressed and laboured upon over and over again for no good reason; it is merely scapegoating, the act of having someone to point a finger at when things go wrong.

You could argue that I’m overreacting, since I do have a personal stake in this. I was one of those girls, who wore a hijab to school, except back then it was only a piece of clothing and not a political statement. Unfortunately, now, we live in a climate where every step, every breath, every move a Muslim makes is questioned and questioned until they are either convicted—falsely or otherwise—or they are scared into giving up their identity, their spirit, and melding into the meaningless grey masses.

Bareerah Sayed is a third year English student at King’s College London, and the Political Affairs Editor for I RISE Magazine.

My Week as a Muslim: A futile attempt at addressing Islamophobia in Britain

The first time I tried to watch My Week as a Muslim, I cried during the opening scene and slammed my laptop shut within twenty minutes.

It would be easy to dismiss this Channel 4 documentary as a misguided, shambolic failure and sweep it under the rug with a roll of the eyes and frustrated exasperation as we wonder when mainstream media will represent the Muslim narrative accurately. But I hesitate to do so. My Week as a Muslim has served as a troubling platform for bigots to validate their pre-existing Islamophobia, whilst undeservedly being allowed a voyeuristic view into the lives of a loving British Muslim family.

My Week as a Muslim follows the journey (read: series of racist monologues) of Katie, A Normal White Woman™ from Cheshire. Katie is welcomed into the home of Saima Alvi who is a British hijabi living in Manchester with her four children. Their two worlds collide and a shocking revelation sparkles in Katie’s newly racist-free eyes: Muslims are people. Before Channel 4, I didn’t know that.

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It opens with Saima and her family, standing side-by-side in their living room as they prepare to pray with an uncomfortable Katie looking on in silence. Saima’s youngest child begins the prayer in Arabic, proclaiming ‘Allahu Akbar’, meaning ‘God is Great’. Katie’s face crumples into fear, her jaw hanging open in shock and disgust. The scene is heart-breaking and infuriating. Katie has the gall and entitlement – awarded to her by a lifetime of being white – to stand in the living room of her host and openly prickle with fear at the phrase, ‘Allahu Akbar’. It’s not news that this phrase has been tarnished by extremists – terrorists and The Sun alike – to harangue Muslims. But if the intention of this documentary was to dispel the misconceptions Islamophobes cling to, why re-enforce these misconceptions? Why construct a blatantly fake, gratuitous situation which only deepens the very wounds which it seeks to heal? Why remind British Muslims watching that our faith is inherently feared and shunned?

The programme continues to follow Katie as she attempts to assimilate into the Birmingham Muslim community with the guidance of Saima. But nothing stops her from spouting her vitriolic abuse at and about Muslims: ‘banning burqas, banning headdresses would make people feel a lot happier, a lot safer’ because, as she admits, ‘I wouldn’t want to sit next to them [visible Muslims] because I would automatically assume they’d blow something up’. It always shocks me that women who claim to be so liberated, so free, so equal to their male counterparts – let’s not even get into their fear of the word ‘feminism’ – are so quick to ban burqas and impose clothing rules on women. Isn’t that exactly what they are so proud to represent: freedom? So why aren’t Muslim women free to wear what makes them comfortable? We don’t all need to be wolf-whistled on the street to feel confident and comfortable in our bodies. But that’s Western Enlightenment for you.

But the most infuriating and politically-deaf moment of the programme – and that which has received the most attention – is the moment Katie was brownfaced. Brown foundation is sprayed onto her skin as yellow teeth and a large nose mould are fitted onto her face. It is a disrespect on so many levels. Not all Muslims are brown Pakistanis. As a Pakistani Muslim myself, I was enraged at the effortless conflation of Pakistani and Muslim, validating the assumption that brown = Muslim. Sometimes, yes. But the producers conveniently forgot about black Muslims, white-passing Muslims, and white Muslims, in order to fulfil their controversial-for-a-good-cause martyrdom. The producer Fozia Khan oversimplifies the issue in her Guardian article, writing that Katie only ‘puts on makeup and changes her clothes to pass as Muslim’. It is not simply makeup; it is a symbol of oppression, ridicule, and a dismissal of centuries of racism – all the more pertinent considering British colonialism. It is not simply clothes; it is a signifier of faith, of modesty, of commitment – all values which Katie only two weeks ago would have assumed was a cover up for an explosive device.

It completely erases the authentic Muslim experience and instead places an undeserving bigot in the centre of a pseudo-emotional journey of self-improvement. Instead of educating viewers and curing ignorance, it selects an overt racist who is all too quick to change her views and is therefore painfully inaccurate compared to its thousands of viewers who are most likely unconvinced. In doing so, My Week as a Muslim perpetuates a over-valuing of racists and a de-valuing of real Muslim stories: we are encouraged to not sympathise with the words of Muslim women, but with the words of a white woman whose mother cried in fear when she saw her wearing a hijab.

My Week as a Muslim is a disappointing and counterproductive representation of the Muslim experience. But, since it is so detached from the Muslim community, there is one thing I am looking forward to: the intelligent, thought-provoking responses of Muslim women across the country who are righting this wrong.

(One example of this is Sabeena Akhtar’s collection of essays written by British hijabis, Cut from the Same Cloth. Fundraising page here: https://unbound.com/books/cut-from-the-same-cloth)  

 

Sara Malik is a BA English graduate from King’s College London, and is the Assistant Editor & Photographer of I RISE Magazine. 

Chuskipop – Celebrating Desi Feminism

Modern India has been ravaged by rampant misogyny – from the abominable rape culture to the hypersexualisation and objectification of women in the Indian Film industry. Every chauvinistic nook and cranny found in India stems from deep-rooted cultural issues, unfortunately imbibed in Indian society today.

Although there are a myriad of intersectional feminists who are fighting to dismantle the pillars of patriarchy, they seem to lack a certain brand of feminism that has been missing from India for so long – a brand of feminism that combines fighting against the oppression of women in India and simultaneously fighting for the sexual freedom, financial independence and greater recognition of the strength and power of your average Desi woman.

This void is steadily being filled by Chuskipop, an hour long, biweekly podcast by Sweety and Pappu, two proud Indian women who are unapologetically vocal about their body, sexuality, intellect and the power they yield as brown women.

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Chuskipop, “the Brainchild of Sweety”, as Pappu endearingly calls it, was created by Sweety as a “creative outlet to deal with the stress of moving” to Canada, far away from loved ones. Sweety, an artist based in Canada, decided to reach out to Pappu, a writer based in the Middle East and a childhood friend, to create something special, something that would help them connect with other Desi women all around the world. Pappu recalls being initially terrified and simultaneously flattered that Sweety chose to reach out to her. “I tend to be an introvert and I’m not the kind of person to openly voice my opinions a lot – but something stirred inside of me, which prompted me to say yes”.

We wanted to create something entertaining, raw and rebellious – something that celebrates Desi Female friendship”, quips Sweety. “We did this so we could create a safe space online, to voice our dissent through creativity”.

What’s interesting, puzzling and slightly melancholy is both women have decided to remain anonymous, adopting traditional Indian monikers Sweety and Pappu. “Well, both of us were born in the Middle East so we still have family there and Pappu still lives there – living in the Middle East, it’s kind of scary”, Sweety ponders, with slight discontent. The lack of freedom of speech and oppression against women in many parts of the region discouraged the Chuskipop duo to openly speak out. India’s conservative nature acted as an added deterrent – “a lot of our topics may not be taken the right way, especially in relation to relatives; we just didn’t want to run the risk of rubbing someone in the wrong way”.

Chuskipop’s popularity is evident from its steadily increasing social media following, which is no surprise at all. The hilarious, authentic podcasts range from topics about periods to the archaic concepts of marriage in the Indian community – topics that are incredibly relevant and relatable to the majority of Indian women, who want to speak up but may be scared of the repercussions it may bring. When talking about the possible expansion of the Chuskipop brand, Sweety mentions working towards making short films and animated shorts while Pappu talks about wanting to collaborate with specific charities who are involved in elevating the already powerful feminist movement in India.

The Chuskipop duo are also incredibly passionate about helping social causes, ranging from women’s empowerment to increasing the rights of the LGBTQI+ community in India. When asked about whether they had any interested in joining the Indian political scene, both of them fervently deny having any interest. “India has a very intense and frightening political landscape that neither Pappu nor I see ourselves being a part of. Although, we absolutely want to be part of the overarching social justice movement and fight alongside our peers, who need our support” muses Sweety.

In addition to the podcasts, Sweety also creates a very distinctive flavor of artwork that is inspired by 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Bollywood Heroines. The backdrop of the artwork consists of these golden divas, draped in heavy kajal and colourful prints, is fronted by powerful quotes such as ‘A woman does not have to be modest in order to be respected’ and ‘Behind every successful woman in a tribe of other successful women who have her back’. “We have been getting so many requests for prints, so we might work on that”, says Pappu.

 

The juxerposition of the quotes with the many actresses representing the stereotypical, submissive Indian woman is a direct hit to the Indian film industry and to the patriarchy that is, unfortunately, ruling India today.

Talking about 90’s Bollywood Heroines leads to Sweety reminiscing about her childhood and how almost every Bollywood movie was written through the ‘male gaze’ and male point of view – “it was honestly exhausting and boring. Growing up in the 90’s and being exposed to rape scene after rape scene was incredibly harmful for young girls – I grew up feeling very confused about sexuality and couldn’t process as to why men kept on physically abusing women in every single Bollywood movie I watched”.

“What frustrated me even more was every movie showing the Indian hero stalking his heroine until she succumbed to his advances and magically fell in love with him. The violent rape scenes, men slapping women to put them in their place or trying to steal their honor – it was horrifying. If this is all Indian men watched growing up, no wonder they feel like they are entitled to a woman’s time”.

Talking about whether the Indian film Industry has been sexually empowering towards woman, Pappu adds that the difference between objectifying women and sexually liberating them is “simple a matter of finding out who is writing/directing the specific movie and who its being written for. More often than not, Bollywood masala films with “Item songs” are written and directed by men, with men in mind as the audience”.

Although, Sweety does mention watching positive Bollywood sexual role models such as Helen, Rekha and Sridevi, woman who would “dance and strut around, blending naturally refined sexuality with power, humour and a whole load of sass”.

One of the aspects that are admiring and refreshing about Chuskipop is how sex positive if is – India, like most South Asian countries, is a very conservative country, where sex is a taboo subject in most households of almost every socio-economic level.

Sweety believes that India has a long way to go to become a sex positive nation for both men and women. “The nation harbors a very sexist and uninformed idea of women’s sexuality and it shocks me that we come from a culture that used to be very sex positive but is now so fearful of discussing a subject that is so natural and primal – sex plays such a big role in our daily lives”.  Although, she has hope that things will eventually change, Pappu adds that India needs a massive overhaul in social norms and the media’s portrayal of women. “The government can possible play a bigger role in education people about human sexuality, as long as they are well informed about it.”

But, for India to move towards becoming a more progressive, sex positive society, the horrifying and uncontrollable rape culture needs to end. “Sex being a taboo subject does play a small role in fueling rape culture, but it stems more from our patriarchal society and a strong desire for Indian men to be in constant control. The average Indian men is raised to believe that they are entitled to a woman’s body and her time whereas the average Indian woman is raised to be quiet and subservient”, says Sweety.

“Also, there is a strong tendency for victim blaming – the fact that the Indian legal system does not even recognize martial rape shows how broken our system is”, says Pappu. She adds, “When it comes to consent classes in India, our sex education does not impart clearly instructions on asking for consent and giving consent. We constantly mention on our podcast of how traumatic the extended rape scenes of 90’s Bollywood were – it was such a weird, hypocritical time where natural acts of showing affection were considered scandalous while no one batted an eye over rape scenes. Although, I can’t really say that the movies nowadays are any better”.

Marital rape not being considered illegal in India, when a spouse is over the age of fifteen, a fact which has sent shockwaves of disgust all over the feminist movement in India. It is also an issue that visibly angers the Chuskipop duo very much.

“Honestly, I’m used to conservative Desi women playing into the patriarchy”, sighs Sweety.

Maneka Gandhi, the Union Cabinet minister for women & children has justified this (might I add pathetically) by stating that the international definition of marital rape ‘can’t be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs etc.’. Sweety adds, “I’m not sure why illiteracy and poverty should be an issue, because martial rape can happen to anyone, regardless of their caste and creed. Obviously Maneka Gandhi has it very, very wrong, either she’s incredibly uninformed or playing a political game of chess. I know she used to be against marital rape, so I wonder if someone is pressuring her to say otherwise. There’s definitely no exceptions when it comes to marital rape – a man does not have any right over a woman’s body, no means NO. I’m not sure when it will be overturned, but from reading the news, there’s enough dissent around this issue so I’m hoping that things will change soon.

Pappu explains that “The most dangerous tide against the feminist movement in India is in the form of those who knowingly or unknowingly prescribe to an inherently patriarchal view of the world. Their inculcated social mores and codes are from a patriarchal standpoint. The fact that Maneka Gandhi, as the Minister for Women & Child Development, with her inherent patriarchy fails to recognize the basic human right for example the right to your own body, is shameful to say the least”.

Pappu and Sweety are also invested in changing the racist and ridiculous standards of beauty, embedded in Indian culture. Sweety described not even being shocked at VOGUE India’s decision to put Kendall Jenner as the cover model for their 10th anniversary.

“They’ve always been tone deaf when it comes to women of colour. VOGUE India is fixated on the same archaic concept of beauty – that light skin is more attractive and that brown, Desi women don’t have a place in this world. They are perpetuating the concept of India women, with their brown skin, curvy bodies and thick lips are just not good enough.”

Sweety also outlines the inherent misogyny in putting Sushant Singh Rajput, a Bollywood actor with Jenner. “Why did they replace Rajput with Channing Tatum – oh yeah, Desi men have to have a place in Indian society, why not cater to Indian male ego”.

I ask whether we’ll be able to know the identities of these two modern day Jhansi ranis.

Sweety answers, with a lot of conviction. “When we are ready to come out, we will”.

“I guess anonymity does have its inherent benefits – one of them is that the listener to place us to be anyone. We could be that girl riding next to you in the subway or that someone sitting across you at a café”, Pappu mentions.

Hopefully, one day, their candor will bring eventual change in India, enabling them to express their thoughts openly and freely.

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All Photos by Sweety and Pappu of Chuskipop

You can find Chuskipop on social media:

Website:  http://chuskipop.com/

Instagram: @chuskipop

Twitter: @chuskipop

 

Antara Dasgupta is a third year Chemistry student at King’s College London, and the Culture Editor for I RISE Magazine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOGUE India X Kendall Jenner

Recently, out of sheer boredom, I was starting down at a magazine aisle in IGI airport, where ridiculously inane tabloid headlines and pictures of an imposing zigzag splitting happy-looking couples covered the rack – but only one cover managed to dominate. The gleaming, glossy center of attention was propped up, piercing through my eyes, making me feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

There the cover was, constantly reminding me that my brown skin, curvy body and thick lips were just not good enough.

I’d like to start by saying that I fully understand and acknowledge that as a socio-economically privileged non-resident Indian, I have definitely not faced the brunt of the devastating effects of the permanent colonial hangover the empire has left us – one of their many parting gifts.

But as a young brown woman, an Indian woman, it bothers me that VOGUE India, a so called progressive, liberal and most importantly, feminist magazine, decided to celebrate its 10th anniversary by parading Kendall Jenner, a flag bearer of white feminism and intersectional racism. Jenner, by the way, was hot off the Pepsi commercial gaffe, where she and Pepsi managed to commercialise and trivialize strong, pure movements such as Black Lives Matters and the Women’s March.

Oh! – Let’s not forget, she still hasn’t issued a simple apology.

When my melanchochic eyes loom at the Glossy VOGUE cover, Kendall draped in chic black lace, collarbones daintily out, it reminds of my uncle asking me whether I hadn’t washed my face the night before as it was looking grimy and dirty – not ivory-like and unpigmented.

It wasn’t looking white enough.

“Ato Kalo kaano lagche toke?” (Why are you looking so black today?)

I was looking ugly and unkempt because my skin was looking particularly brown today.

Looking at the cover also brings back haunting memories of relatives telling me that I looked as pretty as a Meimshahib, which translated to ‘white girl’.

Was my beauty only justified when I resembled a white woman? Could I not looking beautiful and still be a brown skinned woman at the same time?

What VOGUE India doesn’t recognize is that when you are willfully choosing a white woman to cover an Indian magazine, you are inadvertently, yet essentially sending a message to all Indian woman: You aren’t really attractive if you don’t have fair skin.

The incredibly frustrating issue with VOGUE India is how they incompetently tried to justify their decision by using pathetic statistics. Telling us that 90% of the covers already feature Indian models and therefore giving the coveted spot to a white woman is a frankly ridiculous and a woefully insufficient explanation.

I’m not disappointed in Kendall Jenner. I’m disappointed in VOGUE India.

By plastering a white woman on a coveted issue of an Indian publication, read predominantly by Indian women, reminds us of the narrow standards of beauty that have ravaged Indian women for eons.

By placing Kendall Jenner, a privileged white woman on a cover of an Indian publication, they are essentially being fixated on the same archaic concept of beauty.

When publications such as VOGUE India give preference to white woman over brown woman, it is reminiscent of how Indian woman feel outside of India – marginalized, stereotyped and unattractive.

Outside of India, Indian women are stereotyped as hairy, submissive, with thick accents and slated for an arranged marriage.

Once, someone in London had the audacity to tell me that I smelt like curry.

I shouldn’t feel marginalized and unattractive in my own country.

Publications such as VOGUE India should use opportunities to celebrate all types of Indian beauty so that Indian woman are able recover from the colonial hangover and remain confident of their beauty – no matter how many relatives describe us as wheat-ish or the number of sales assistants hounding us to buy the new and improved whitening and brightening skin cleanser, we should remain confident of the fact that we are strong Indian woman, proud of our bindis, headscarves and melanin.

 

Antara Dasgupta is part of the Editorial Team at I RISE magazine, and a Chemistry student at King’s College London.

The woman behind the ‘Pink Ladoo Project’

Traditionally in Punjabi households, and in a wider South Asian context, the birth of a boy is celebrated with sweets, typically ladoo: a ball of sweetness, usually made with flour and sugar.

However, if a girl is born, there is no designated sweet to celebrate their arrival.

Enter in Raj Khaira.

A British-born Sikh, raised in Canada, Khaira is the creator of the Pink Ladoo Project. Inspired by the negative reaction to her sister’s birth, particularly when contrasted with the reaction to the birth of her brother, in 2015 Khaira began her project to celebrate the birth of baby girls with a pink ladoo.

This may only be a small step, but it helps to meet the campaign’s broader aim of eradicating the sex based prejudices found originally in British Asian households. The campaign has since spread worldwide, to places with a large South Asian diaspora such as Canada and Australia. In taking this step, Khaira has helped start the conversation about this issue in the Punjabi and wider South Asian community.

It’s a conversation that needs to be had. The issue of sex based oppression is overwhelming in areas like the Punjab, which has one of the highest female foeticide rates in India, with a staggering 892 girls born in comparison to every 1000 boys. This is despite the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. He stated that men and women are equal and established equality of the sexes as a fundamental principle of Sikhism.

Whilst practices of female foeticide may not be so common in the diasporic communities, the idea of baby girls as unwelcome and a burden persists.

Therefore, it is important that women like Khaira rise up and challenge the patriarchal norms of society, proving that women, especially South Asian women who are often portrayed as passive, can and are able to make positive changes.

By turning South Asian cultural expectations on its head, Khaira has not only inspired numerous Asian women and men to celebrate the birth of their daughters, but also started a desperately needed conversation on a very sensitive topic.

Pink Ladoo Project is full of ordinary people’s stories who have experienced a similar story to Raj Khaira.

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Isha Sohal is a third year History student at King’s College, London

World Hijab Day Is A Load Of Tripe

*Disclaimer: I wrote this back in 2015. I still believe this to be true, especially after the horrifying campaign Middlesex Uni SU have recently devised, titled Walk In Her Scarf , which basically allows non-Muslim white women to act as though they support the struggles of Muslim women. However, and funnily, chances are, they don’t stand in solidarity with Muslim women in the past, so why now? It’s stupid.* 

Every year on the 1st of February, it’s known as the so called ‘World Hijab Day’.

Immediately, you think it’s a good thing, people going round wearing a headscarf to see what it feels like, but there is something about this that I find distressing. I’m not a fan of ‘World Hijab Day’ and here’s why.

Firstly, appropriation. Muslim women wearing the hijab is something that is highly criticised, from Islamophobes to so called ‘liberal’ feminists. There seems to be a notion that women who wear the Hijab are subject to oppression and misogyny. So are all these labels dropped for a day just to see what it’s like to have a piece of cloth over your head? Suddenly, you’re praised. You’re championed as brave, courageous, curious, whilst those who wear it on a daily basis for religious purposes, THE ACTUAL REASON YOU WEAR IT FOR, are constantly harassed.

Why is this?

Why should it be okay that someone who isn’t a Muslim wear a hijab for a day and get praised?

Last year in the UK, a Muslim woman was murdered for wearing the full Islamic dress. Murdered. Some are constantly abused for covering their heads, and some need to choose between wearing the hijab and financial SECURITY. This ISN’T RIGHT. If we live in a liberal, progressive society, why are this happening and how are people getting away with it? It isn’t okay at all, and events such as World Hijab Day perpetuate this hugely.

Secondly, the Hijab is way more than a fashion accessory that you wear just for a day. By wearing something as symbolic as the hijab just for ONE day, you’re not really learning anything. You will not fully understand the purpose of why the hijab is worn. That’s just impossible. Wearing the hijab requires both dedication and getting used too. You will not achieve your desired aim in just 24 hours. Going around town to see what people will say about you doesn’t prove anything. If you really want to know what it’s like to wear a Hijab, ask a woman who wears one.

I understand that this campaign was first established to serve good, and to perhaps educate people about issues surrounding the Hijab and celebrating those who decide to wear the Hijab, but I feel that there are some issues that people (particularly Muslims) do not want to confront, hence brushed under the carpet. This won’t solve the problem. What people need to understand is that wearing the Hijab is a very personal matter for a Muslim woman, a lot get

bashed for not wearing it (which really isn’t your business) and some get slammed for not wearing it properly (once again, none of your business). It’s a deeply sensitive issue, and I think that this one day event is more detrimental than encouraging, because these issues that people just don’t want to speak about are directly under the spotlight. Perhaps it’s about time that we all spoke about this, openly and honestly. It’s about time we confronted our critics about this properly, rather than this one day business which in my mind doesn’t serve any real impact or purpose. Dialogue and rational thought is the way forward, not more abuse and appropriation.

Regardless about what I feel about ‘World Hijab Day’, solidarity to all those who wear the hijab and those who don’t!

World Hijab Day is complete and utter bullshit.

 

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Rahma Hussein is a second year History student at King’s College, London. 

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Statement In Response To Remarks Made By Dr Adam Perkins About The Somali Community

TW: racism, anti-blackness (especially relating to Somali communities) and Islamophobia. 

I would like to bring to everyone’s attention an incident which has taken place this weekend on Twitter. An academic by the name Adam Perkins, a lecturer in the Neurobiology of Personality at King’s College London, posted a series of racist and incredibly insulting remarks directed at the Somali community.

He stated that “Trump’s ban makes sense on human capital terms… people from ‘banned nations’ tend to be over-represented in crime and unemployment stats”. The fact that he refers to the vulnerable lives as “human capital” is distasteful in itself, but then goes on to imply that Somali’s chose to live in countries that will guarantee them social welfare (such as benefits in the UK) so that they don’t have to work – and ridiculously thought that providing Danish data would suffice.

This is absolutely absurd. Additionally, according to him, Somali’s also don’t possess the “Scandinavian work ethic” that will supposedly allow them to work in the Nordic nations, and that Somali unemployment in the USA is 50%. There is absolutely NO evidence for this, and what on earth is meant by “Scandinavian work ethic”? Lastly, he states that Although crafting his tweets carefully, evidently attempting to avoid any critique of his statements, saying “Danish data suggesting that welfare benefits taste sweeter to some cultures than others” is downright wrong and insulting. Also, why Danish data? Too lazy to find any British data?

As a British Somali, born from Somali refugees who have worked since DAY ONE upon entering this country, haven’t claimed a single penny in social benefits from the government, speaking little English, the fact that this lecturer can generalise is the most angry I have felt in a very long time. How dare you. Further statements which he has made which are completely untrue include: “Somalians don’t perform well either side of the Atlantic”, and that “if a migrant group is bad news I doubt national governments care much about the causes…”. Who said that the Somali migrant group was bad? Where is the evidence for this? The fact that he chose to pick on Somali’s alone says a lot.

As a magazine, it goes without saying that we completely disagree with the comments made by the lecturer, and absolutely does not represent the views of the institution. Academics must understand that they are utterly responsible to whatever they post on their social media channels just as they are for the words they say in a classroom, and such reckless tweeting, clearly made by this lecturer is a prime example that some may be unaware, or indeed neglect their duties of responsibility when expressing one’s views. Additionally, the

Somali community at King’s now feel even more vulnerable to violence whether that may be physical or verbal, escalating the fear they already feel by recent events, especially with the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia that has risen in the UK since Brexit, and now in the US by the inauguration of Trump.

At this crucial time, we must support ALL communities which are now subject to intense scrutiny and discrimination due to the actions of certain individuals with power, and would appreciate that ALL lecturers understood that whatever their comments, they will be held responsible for their remarks given their position of authority and trust. At I RISE magazine, we demand that Dr Adam Perkins immediately apologises sincerely to the Somali community at King’s for which he has caused immense distress, and that he apologises for his offensive remarks about Somali’s without consulting solid evidence. We as I RISE extend our full support and solidarity to the Somali community at KCL and beyond with the distress caused by recent events.

With solidarity,

I RISE magazine

Please sign this petition

*Article written by current BME Officer for IFemSoc*